REVIEW: BEFORE SHE KNEW HIM, BY PETER SWANSON

 

Hen and her husband Lloyd have settled into a quiet life in a new house outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Hen (short for Henrietta) is an illustrator and works out of a studio nearby, and has found the right meds to control her bipolar disorder. Finally, she’s found some stability and peace.

But when they meet the neighbors next door, that calm begins to erode as she spots a familiar object displayed on the husband’s office shelf. The sports trophy looks exactly like one that went missing from the home of a young man who was killed two years ago. Hen knows because she’s long had a fascination with this unsolved murder—an obsession she doesn’t talk about anymore, but can’t fully shake either.

Could her neighbor, Matthew, be a killer? Or is this the beginning of another psychotic episode like the one she suffered back in college, when she became so consumed with proving a fellow student guilty that she ended up hurting a classmate?

The more Hen observes Matthew, the more she suspects he’s planning something truly terrifying. Yet no one will believe her. Then one night, when she comes face to face with Matthew in a dark parking lot, she realizes that he knows she’s been watching him, that she’s really on to him. And that this is the beginning of a horrifying nightmare she may not live to escape. . .

My Thoughts: Before She Knew Him is a fascinating character study with alternating voices. We first meet Hen after she and her husband Lloyd have moved into their new neighborhood. After meeting next door neighbors Matthew and Mira, the two join them for dinner. Discovering the sports trophy in Matthew’s office sets Hen off on an obsessive journey, one that she has been on before.

Her past, with some psychotic behavior, reminds her that her current behavior is like a red flag warning her not to follow this path. But she is unable to steer clear, even following and stalking Matthew.

When we join Matthew’s perspective, we learn a lot about his own obsessions…and how he is also fascinated by Hen and her art. He senses that she is a kindred spirit, and draws her into his dark mind.

What will happen to the two of them, and will their knowledge of each other take them on an even darker journey? How will the journey into Matthew’s past take Hen into the world of another character? Will that discovery reveal unexpected things? And how will the frightening path lead Hen into a time before she had met Matthew, showing a deeper connection? A gripping 5 star read.

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WEEKLY UPDATES: LET’S MAKE NEW CONNECTIONS…

Good morning! Today’s post will link up to The Sunday Salon, The Sunday Post and Stacking the Shelves, for weekly updates.

**Mailbox Monday is hosted at the home site: Mailbox Monday.

And let’s join Kathryn, our leader in It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?, at Book Date.

 

For a holiday week, I got a lot done.  Well, sort of.  LOL.  I finished my third book of the week this morning, and as I savored the moments with the MC, I realized how much I enjoy that kind of book.  I love my thrillers, but I am inspired by novels that I can sink into and connect with the characters. 

I am ready for First Books of the Year!  I have my book, and I’ve sent off my photo.  On Tuesday morning, I will publish the post that reveals all.  I love this event!  Thanks, Sheila.

Earlier this week, on Christmas morning, I enjoyed brunch with family and friends.  Quiche, coffee cake, fruit, and Mimosas…the perfect way to celebrate.

For the rest of the week, I have stayed indoors except for necessary shopping…and curled up with my books.

I did write some blog posts:  seven of them.  And I enjoyed Netflix, finishing Season 3 of Wanted and allowed myself to be terrified by Bird Box.

As we grab another cup of coffee or beverage, let’s take a closer look.

LAST WEEK ON THE BLOGS:

Sunday Potpourri:  Discovering the Spirit of the Holidays…

Tuesday Excerpts:  “Sophie Last Seen”

Merry Christmas from My Interiors to Yours…

Enjoying My Book Treasures…

Coffee Chat:  Transitioning to a New Year

Bookish Friday:  “Sadie”

Favorite 2018 Books:  Let’s Curl up and Read…

Review:  The Adults (e-book), by Caroline HulseReview:  The Affliction (e-book), by Beth GutcheonReview:  Emily, Alone (e-book), by Stewart O’Nan

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INCOMING BOOKS: (Titles/Covers Linked to Amazon)

Empty mailbox!  I did download one new e-book.

Our Little Lies (e-book), by Sue Watson

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WHAT’S NEXT?

I’m currently reading Sophie Last Seen, a review book by Marlene Adelstein.

And my First Book of the Year will be unveiled on 1/1/19, right here on this blog.

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That was my week…and with a New Year ahead, I am eager to make changes in my reading, as well as in following my One Word (Connect), which was almost an epic fail this past year.  Yes, I maintained my online connections, and tried to stay in touch with family and friends…but I didn’t join a book club as planned, nor did I develop new connections.

What did your week (and year) look like?  Here is a delicious brunch I had earlier this week:  Pain Perdu with mixed berries, from Mimi’s.  And a delicious Mimosa.

***

REVIEW: BEACH BLISS, BY JOANNE DEMAIO

 

Blue skies and smooth seas return to the coastal community of Stony Point. Until a new arrival in this little New England beach town sets forth a competition like no other. As the temperature rises beneath the summer sun, so do the antics and good-natured fun.

Join Jason Barlow, Maris, Kyle, Elsa and the rest of the gang for another unforgettable season at the shore. The sound of gulls and lapping waves are calling you to the page … for a summer read that’s purely Beach Bliss.

My Thoughts: I love joining in with familiar characters who feel like friends, and in Beach Bliss, the crew is all there at Stony Point Beach.

This time, we are watching as Elsa finishes renovating her cottage into Ocean Star Inn, with the help of architect Jason Barlow. Jason’s wife Maris is Elsa’s niece, and is trying to finish writing Neil’s manuscript. The accident that killed Neil seriously injured his brother Jason, and Jason still struggles with the after-effects, both physically and emotionally.

Elsa’s son Sal died the year before, and his fiancée Celia was pregnant at the time, and now has a baby she named Aria.

Everyone in the community has taken the two under their wings…and even organized a series of “godfather contests.” Funny and poignant moments carry us along. I especially enjoyed how the old Foley’s Back Room remained intact in the inn, as part of their past and their history.

The godfather contests were the least interesting aspects to me, but I did smile when the women set out to find their own way to enjoy a piece of the godfather action. As the rest of the novel picked up and carried us along to Aria’s christening and Jason’s attempt to find out more about a mysterious cottage, I was once again glued to the pages. 5 stars.

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EXPLORING CONNECTIONS: MY ONE WORD

Is it time to chat about my One Word?  The word CONNECT always reminds me of how different my life is nowadays…and how, back in college, connecting was not something you really had to think about.  There were so many new people to meet, and classes to attend with potential new connections.

In my career as a social worker, connecting with people was a daily routine, although my role in these interactions was quite different than it was in college.  I was a listener, a guide, an advocate…and I came to relish the role.  Not something that works for me now, though.

 

Of course, in today’s world, we have online opportunities, and I’m not negating the value of social media.  Without it, I would  be truly isolated.  But I have to go outside my comfort zone to find real-life connections. 

Last week I had a spontaneous conversation in a neighborhood restaurant and learned about a nearby book club  that I want to explore.  And, of course, I regularly go to restaurants and bookstores, where I can strike up conversations.  Because I am “older,” nobody seems to take offense.  LOL.

***

Now that I’ve shared my explorations, I am truly excited about some new books approved by NetGalley lately, bringing my total unread ARCs to NINE.  With so many books to read, how much time is there to connect?  See what I did? My introversion is showing.

Today I got approval for The High Tide Club, by Mary Kay Andrews – (Release Date:  5/8/18)

Last week, I downloaded Paris Ever After, by K.S.R. Burns (Release Date – 5/1/18)

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Soon I will start reading my March books:

The Flight Attendant, by Chris Bohjalian (March 13)

Alternate Side, by Anna Quindlen (3/20/18)

Not That I Could Tell, by Jessica Strawser (3/27/18)

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I have three ARCs that will be released in April, and three in May, two of which were mentioned at the top of the post.

I love planning out my reading.

What books are you eagerly waiting to read? 

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REVIEW: A HUNDRED SMALL LESSONS, BY ASHLEY HAY

 

When Elsie Gormley leaves the Brisbane house in which she has lived for more than sixty years, Lucy Kiss and her family move in, eager to establish their new life. As they settle in, Lucy and her husband Ben struggle to navigate their transformation from adventurous lovers to new parents, taking comfort in memories of their vibrant past as they begin to unearth who their future selves might be. But the house has secrets of its own, and the rooms seem to share recollections of Elsie’s life with Lucy.

In her nearby nursing home, Elsie traces the span of her life—the moments she can’t bear to let go and the places to which she dreams of returning. Her beloved former house is at the heart of her memories of marriage, motherhood, love, and death, and the boundary between present and past becomes increasingly porous for both her and Lucy.

My Thoughts: Like a character in its own right, the small cottage in Brisbane was home to Elsie Gormley, her husband Clem, and her twins, Don and Elaine. After Elsie moved into a care facility, her grown children sold the house to Ben Carter, Lucy Kiss and their young son Tom.

A Hundred Small Lessons is an unfolding of their life stories, through alternating narratives. We visualize them in the past and the present, in a non-linear fashion, and occasionally, they almost seem to be in the same time/space spectrum, crossing paths in the old house as they experience significant moments.

Sometimes Lucy feels Elsie’s presence, almost as if the old woman has come to visit in the middle of the night. Mysterious things happen…like roses appearing from an unknown giver. Lucy believes that Elsie is there with her, possibly even speaking to her…but Ben dismisses these “happenings” as Lucy’s imagination.

I loved the image of characters connecting at various points in their journeys…and seemingly walking similar pathways, while experiencing their lives in different eras, from the 1940s to the present. A poignant story that also reminds us of the passage of time and the memories that sustain us. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: LAST ONE HOME, BY DEBBIE MACOMBER

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Cassie Carter has been struggling to work her way out of the dark hole her life has become. Escaping her abusive marriage would lead her toward a new life at last. She and her twelve-year-old daughter Amiee long for a home of their own, the kind of place that Cassie thinks about when she remembers happier times. Memories of the childhood games of hide-and-seek and calling out “last one home is it” shine through, reminding her that she can move forward and create her own family.

It has been thirteen years since Cassie has seen her sisters, Karen and Nichole, and sometimes the pain is almost unbearable. Her parents died a few years before, and their loss is a constant reminder of broken ties.

Because she ran away with Duke, leaving behind her family and her scholarship, her sisters have been unable to forgive her.

But nowadays, Cassie has hope. She has her cosmetologist’s license, a growing clientele, and there is a promise of a new home ahead, as she has been approved for a Habitat for Humanity house.

Can Cassie’s dream of a home really happen? Will she and her daughter finally heal from the past? Will Cassie be able to reconnect with her sisters, rebuilding the broken relationships? And finally, can there be love again?

Last One Home: A Novel is an inspirational story that reminds us of hope, dreams, and starting over. Another enjoyable read from this author. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY, BY BILL CLEGG

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In a small Connecticut town, several individuals are caught up in a tragedy that ultimately links them, and through the pages, the author takes us into the lives of some of these individuals, revealing past and present choices, and leading us to a place of understanding just what happened that day.

It happens the night before the wedding between June’s daughter Lolly and her fiancé Will. At a time when everyone has gathered to celebrate, the explosion kills everyone but June.

The multiple narrators are somehow connected to those who were killed, and separate chapters are devoted to each of them, sometimes in first person and other times, third person. Each narrator has been somehow scarred by events, both before and after the tragedy. Some have been living outside societal norms, clinging to what sets them apart, as if the familiar roles they have fallen into are too comfortable to change. What truths have kept each of them outsiders? Who are they? There is Lydia, whose son Luke was also killed, but is somehow blamed for the tragedy. And then there is June, who was Luke’s older lover, dubbed a cougar by the townsfolk. And then there are Rebecca and Kelly, who live in Moclips, Washington, as far from events as could be, but somehow they are connected to what happened by virtue of offering refuge to one of them.

How did June escape the tragedy, walking away without an identification, to find that refuge? Why did the small town folk believe only the worst about Luke and Lydia? And even though she was from a more polished life, why did they also seem to shun June?

Did You Ever Have A Family could be a poignant view of small town life, with all of its flaws and foibles, reminding us that sometimes the people we choose to dismiss are more like us than not, and that understanding goes a long way toward forgiveness.

The characters’ stories were intimate and insightful. Even though I struggled at times to make the connections between the numerous characters, by the end I could see a clear picture forming. 4 stars.

REVIEW: DEAR DAUGHTER, BY ELIZABETH LITTLE

 

 

81wMk-xe5RL._SL1500_Synopsis: Former “It Girl” Janie Jenkins is sly, stunning, and fresh out of prison. Ten years ago, at the height of her fame, she was incarcerated for the murder of her mother, a high-society beauty known for her good works and rich husbands. Now, released on a technicality, Janie makes herself over and goes undercover, determined to chase down the one lead she has on her mother’s killer. The only problem? Janie doesn’t know if she’s the killer she’s looking for.

The fun in Dear Daughter: A Novel is trying to figure out who did what, as we trail along behind Janie in her disguise as Rebecca. Her search for answers leads her to South Dakota, and what she discovers there will keep us hopping throughout this journey.

Who had the most to gain by killing Janie’s mother and framing her? What secrets lie in the small towns of Ardelle and Adeline? Is anyone buying Janie’s disguise, or is her gig up before she even completes it?

There were times when I was confused by the numerous characters and connections Janie/Rebecca came across in South Dakota. I often had to keep checking to see who was related to whom. But throughout, Janie was clearly a well-drawn character.

In many ways, she was an unlikeable character, but I found myself rooting for her anyway. In the end, I was stunned by the unexpected reveal. And then disappointed by the final denouement. 3.5 stars.

IN SEARCH OF “SPECIALNESS” — AN ELUSIVE JOURNEY

15815333The six of them met when they were fifteen, sixteen years old, during the summer of 1974. A time when the country was poised to watch President Nixon resign his office in disgrace. That event was not as pivotal to the self-absorbed teens as their own agenda: discovering their creativity and finding their special niche. They were attending, for their first summer, a unique camp in the Berkshires called Spirit-in-the-Woods.

They were so special in their own minds that they labeled themselves “The Interestings.” Yes, perhaps the title was meant to be ironic, but their narcissism was also showing.

Over the many pages that follow, we see the group of them morph into their young adult/college age selves, followed by their twenty-somethings. And on and on. And with each year that passes, life chips away at their “specialness,” until some of them are shadows of their former selves. Tragic events reduce their numbers, but the core of them remain connected, sometimes only occasionally.

Ethan Figman, Jules Jacobson, Ash and Goodman Wolf, Cathy Kiplinger, and Jonah Bay. Who among them would find success and happiness, if only for awhile, and who would lose huge pieces of their original selves until there was nothing recognizable remaining?

Narrated from different perspectives, we come to know the hopes, dreams, insecurities, and flaws of most of them, some more than others. Whose startling success will surprise, and sometimes diminish, the others? Who among them will hold a secret that lasts for most of a lifetime?

Of the six major characters, Jules and Ethan felt the most like people I wanted to befriend, even as others seemed so narcissistic as to arouse feelings of disappointment and even anger. Those with a sense of how special they are—that entitlement—would cause me to turn away from them.

Having grown up in those long-ago years, I could relate to the times that were a-changing, from the 70s, with their artistic, liberating, and creative focus, to the 80s, with all the shiny moments and brilliant wealth, followed by less gilded times as the years flew by.

Themes of friendship, loss, the meaning of talent, aging, and how time changes us all resonated with me. Through the years, as the financial and social disparity between some of the characters seemed to result in feelings of envy and even bitterness, it became harder to recall why any of the friendships remained. The fact that some loyalties survived the onslaught of change is a testament to the strength of youthful experiences and those connections formed then. But as the story draws to a close, and as some of the characters attempt to recapture that time in their lives, they realize that you really can’t go back. And, in going on, sometimes the secrets and lies that erupt change the landscape of their lives forever. But what still connects them will see them through.

In some books of this length, I often feel like I can’t wait to get to the end, for the book to finally conclude. But in The Interestings: A Novel, I realized that I wanted to be part of these characters’ lives indefinitely. A resounding five star read!

SAVORING OUR JOURNEY THROUGH THE OBJECTS WE CHOOSE — A REVIEW

 

 

 

One of my favorite things is turning the pages of a decorating/design book and enjoying the photos of wonderfully created and recreated rooms.

Nate Berkus’s The Things That Matter had lovely photos…but all in black and white in this Advanced Reader Copy, which made it challenging to imagine the rooms in color, as they will be in the final version.

However, after the initial disappointment about the photos, I was immediately captivated by the text and the author’s story. For his mission in designing a home came through very clearly: “each object tells a story and each story connects us to one another and to the world.”

And as he leads us through his back story and through the wonderfully captivating tales of his friends whose homes are featured, I could feel the passion, the zeal, and the sense of how each object connected to this person’s life and how putting everything together became a denouement of their life moments.

We can imagine how the things that surround us do tell a lot about who we are. We have probably experienced these feelings in our own lives. I know I have in mine.

When Berkus describes how his pursuit of harmonious homes is a lifelong one, I can relate to him. He says:

“Some people sit in their family rooms at night rehashing their day or thinking about what’s on TV. I sit in mine, and wonder, Would that wicker table look good in the bedroom? Should I put two more chairs here? Should this bookcase be moved two inches to the right? Why are there two chests of drawers in here?”

When I closed the final page–and even during my perusal–I found myself leaping up to rearrange something that I had seen with new eyes as I read this book. And I know that I will grab it frequently to reread a passage or check out the rooms. It will find a home on one of my tables where it is readily accessible. Five stars!